Rationalizing injustice: surprising reinforcement of legal hegemony in South Africa

Monday, 1 October, 2018 - 15:00

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South Africa’s legal system maintains its legitimacy despite the commonplace experiences of injustice that take place at the hands of the criminal justice system. This paper looks at the experiences of migrants, community activists and student activists whose experiences of arrest and brief detention represent examples of such injustice. Through the socio-legal framework of legal consciousness, this paper unpacks how these groups unintentionally reinforce legal hegemony in South Africa through the ways in which they understand and rationalize their experiences of punishment. Despite the reasonable expectation that those who’s experiences reflect miscarriages of justice would be most skeptical and pessimistic of the law’s legitimacy, this paper finds that those who experience injustice maintain their faith in the law. The paper presents an analysis of interviews conducted with members of these groups. These interviews support the view that South Africa’s criminal justice system is able to sustain its legitimacy despite the gaps between what the law ought to be and what the law actually is.

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